Aug. 3, 2013

Waiting for My Clothes

by Leanne O'Sullivan

The day the doctors and nurses are having
their weekly patient interviews, I sit waiting
my turn outside the office, my back to the wall,
legs curled up under my chin, playing

with the hem of my white hospital gown.
They have taken everything they thought
should be taken — my clothes, my books
my music, as if being stripped of these

were part of the cure, like removing the sheath
from a blade that has slaughtered.
They said, Wait a few days, and if you're good
you can have your things back. They'd taken

my journal, my word made flesh, and I think
of those doctors knowing me naked
holding me by my spine, two fingers
under my neck, the way you would hold a baby,

taking my soul from between my ribs
and leafing through the pages of my thoughts,
as if they were reading my palms,
and my name beneath them like a confession,

owning this girl, claiming this world
of blackness and lightness and death
and birth. It lies in their hands like a life-line,
and I feel myself fall open or apart.

They hear my voice as they read
and think, Who is this girl that is speaking?
I know the end, she tells them.
It is the last line, both source and closing.

It is what oceans sing to, how the sun moves,
a place for the map-maker to begin.
Behind the door, nothing is said.
Like dreams, my clothes come out of their boxes.

"Waiting for My Clothes" by Leanne O'Sullivan, from Waiting for My Clothes. © Bloodaxe Books, 2005. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of mystery author P(hyllis) D(orothy) James (books by this author), born in Oxford, England (1920). She is known for her detective novels and said, "The classical detective story affirms our belief that we live in a rational and generally benevolent universe."

She gets ideas for her novels from places she visits — communities or beaches or old houses — and begins with the setting. Her main character is Detective Inspector Adam Dalgliesh.

James says, "One reason why women are good at writing detective stories may be our feminine eye for detail; clue-making demands attention to the detail of everyday life."

It's the birthday of one of America's first embedded reporters, Ernie Pyle (books by this author), born Ernest Taylor Pyle in a little white farmhouse near Dana, Indiana (1900).

In the fall of 1940, Pyle went to London to travel around with Yank troops, and they went to Africa, Italy, and France. He wrote for newspapers about World War II in the form of daily letters home from the war front. When he covered the war, he never made it look glamorous. He hated it, and described all the horror and agony around him. He included the names and hometown addresses of all the soldiers he wrote about.

His letters entered about 14,000,000 homes. He wrote, "For me war has become a flat, black depression without highlights, a revulsion of the mind and an exhaustion of the spirit."

On April 18, 1945, he and a colonel were in a jeep riding to the command post on an Island just west of Okinawa when they were shot at by Japanese machine guns. They dove into a ditch, where a second shot hit Pyle in the left temple, killing him instantly.

People all over the country mourned Pyle's death. President Truman said, "No man in this war has so well told the story of the American fighting man as American fighting men wanted it told."

It's the birthday of the poet Diane Wakoski (books by this author), born in Whittier, California, in 1937. She has written more than 40 books of poetry, including The Motorcycle Betrayal Poems (1971), which she dedicates to "all those men who betrayed me at one time or another."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
The Writer's Almanac on Facebook

The Writer's Almanac on Twitter

Subscribe to our daily newsletter for poems, prose and literary history every morning
An interview with Jeffrey Harrison at The Writer's Almanac Bookshelf
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show
O, What a Luxury

Although he has edited several anthologies of his favorite poems, O, What a Luxury: Verses Lyrical, Vulgar, Pathetic & Profound forges a new path for Garrison Keillor, as a poet of light verse. Purchase O, What a Luxury »